Sunday, February 21, 2010

Obstacles, Eclipses, Glasses, and Trust

Some of the obstacles were easier to negotiate than others. With help, most had been pretty doable. The last one however, I had to manage alone or not at all. I had to conquer my fear.

The tower for the zip line at the end of the COPE course was only 25 feet tall. I say “only” because 25 feet didn’t seem like so much from the safe position of the ground. I started to change my mind about that once I had climbed a third of the way up the precarious tower. The previous obstacles had required the help of friends to get through. I was alone on this one. As I climbed the next 10 feet with very little to hold on to, I started to question my sanity. Making it to the top wasn’t easy, but I did it. Overcoming my fear of heights was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. (Mind you, this was before I hiked Angels Landing in Zion National Park.) I was scared. I was worried about being scarred. And that moment seemed very, very hard.

It was the last step that made all the difference, much like when you lose something important and you find exactly what you are looking for in the last place you think to look. This expression always sounds a bit odd because you have to find what you are searching for in the last place, or it wouldn’t be the last place. Yet to the one searching, it doesn’t diminish how challenging it was to get there. It doesn’t decrease the anxiety of the moment just before you find your solution. Success seems just out of reach until, suddenly, there it is, right in your hand. How is it that the obvious can be so astonishing sometimes?

I stood at the edge of a small platform looking down at the ground below. I felt far away from the earth and there was very little that kept me there. I had two choices before me – turn around and climb back down, or jump. In my hand I held a slack strap that was attached to a pulley on a zip line. I had positioned the strap around the seat of my pants. The strap was not large, but seemed sufficient to hold me. The problem was that everything was tight except the distance between me and the zip line. There was way to much give in the rope. I would pull and there was no resistance. There was no assurance for me that the zip line would actually keep me from falling because I couldn’t test it out, not until I jumped. It was an illusion. There was so much slack, and not enough support, that I might just be jumping to the ground without any protection at all.

Grappling with my reasons to go back, I felt silly. I knew others had done this without any problem. I had watched them. The memory seemed more distant than did the ground because it was my turn, not theirs, to put everything on the line. I had to risk my own fear and trust in my support system to carry me. I debated. I stood, I looked, then I jumped.

For a few brief seconds I experienced free fall. There was still no resistance to my gravity as I fell toward the ground. Then I caught. It wasn’t more than a foot or two when the strap between me and the pulley went taught and I began to move forward and not just down. As I picked up speed, I had a new exhilarating feeling of movement. The air blew against my face and I was carried safely down the length of the line away from the tower.

The resistance of the strap really changed my attitude. I felt safe. Though I was moving downward, there was enough force pulling me upward that my drop was a gradual descent. My support took me to a new place, one that rewarded my trust. Everything depended on my slack strap and the connection with the zip line.

Looking back at the experience, there were two factors that seemed to complicate things for me. Like I could have predicted, the whole ordeal wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Still, getting there was a different matter. I realized afterward that I was afraid of what I could see, and I was afraid of what I didn’t know. Sometimes the evidence right in front of us obscures our vision of more important things. Other times we can’t see clearly what is happening. Both factors tend to promote fear. In this situation, I felt out of control, and that can make life seem harder than it really is.

As a kid, I remember one occasion in elementary school when we scheduled a solar eclipse. I thought it was a rather convenient position for the moon to be in for an astronomy lesson. The moon supposedly was going to block the sun for us so we went outside to watch. I was a little disappointed. I scarcely noticed a change in daylight and it didn’t seem like the moon blocked very much.

I remember my teacher clearly telling us not to look at the sun because its brightness would damage our eyes. She said we could look at the sun as long as we used some special glasses for that purpose. I remember looking through the protective film that would block the harmful rays and I noticed that it was very dark. That seemed odd at first until I held the film up to the sun and found that I could still see its brightness.

The apostle Paul described this phenomenon similarly. There are some things that we can see and some things that we cannot, but at a future place in time, the faithful will have a perfect knowledge. Regarding this he said, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. … For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:10, 12) Paul was referring to a different Son, with even greater brightness than the sun that gives us light.

I don’t know that Paul was necessarily telling us to look through dark glass to see better. Rather he described our vision of things as they really are. A dark lens may eclipse our view of things right in front of us because we do not have enough light to see by. That same lens may also allow us to see things that we might not otherwise realize. It really depends on what you are looking for, and how you look at it.

As a condition of this mortal life, each of us has a protective film or veil that is placed over our minds. It may seem a bit unfair because it eclipses our memory of our lives before we came to this earth. This veil also blurs our understanding from time to time and causes us to feel as though we were in a cloudbank or a dense fog. Our lack of vision in this condition could be termed a different type of eclipse where our vision is obstructed almost completely. However, when we turn to the Son, we begin to make sense of things that we may not understand otherwise.

Whether our vision is obstructed so we cannot see, or that we see so clearly the things in front of us that they become obstacles for our faith, vision problems are a common part of life. It is this reason that the Lord tells us where to look for guidance. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7) Too often our own understanding will blind us, not because it is too bright, but because it will eclipse the light of the Son.

The prophet Isaiah described what will happen for those who prefer their light to the Lord Jesus Christ’s. “Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.” (2 Nephi 7:11) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Nephi cautions us against eclipsing the light of Christ, or at least attempting to do so. Speaking of the Lord, he says, “He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion. Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing.” (2 Nephi 26:29-30) There is a big difference between sustaining the priesthood and upholding priestcrafts, and it all comes down to intent. We may not be able to block the light of the Son any more than the moon in a lunar eclipse, but an attempt to focus someone’s attention on us instead of the Son can be very damaging to them. This may cause us, and the one who is deceived to both “lie down in sorrow.”

Like the example with the zip line, I may find circumstances in life to be very fearful. If I am standing on a small landing or platform with no apparent place to go without jumping or retreating, it is best to check my connection with the zip line. If that connection represents my connection with God, an upward force that will keep me safe, I had better make sure that connection is good before I do any jumping. If I can ascertain in advance that the connection is strong, regardless of how scary things may be around me, then I can trust that I will be okay. I can trust Him because his connections never fail. God always keeps His promises and fulfills his oaths. If I am willing to jump when that connection is strong, I may free fall for a brief moment, but I know He will carry me to a much better place.

One of my favorite examples of trust recorded in the Book of Mormon is with the prophet Nephi in the Book of Helaman. This example is significant to me, not only because it describes the faithfulness of God and the blessings that come when we trust in Him fully, it also describes the blessings that can be ours once God can trust us in return. It is his connection with God that I admire. I hope to someday earn His complete trust by following His ways and adopting His thoughts.

After Nephi had been accused by the people and the judges of being a false prophet, and after refuting their claims by proving that their chief judge had been murdered by his brother on the judgment seat, Nephi attempted to return home for some rest. However, the Lord had other plans for Nephi. The voice of the Lord came to him and said, “Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments. And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.”

The Lord trusted Nephi because he put the will of God before his own. He was willing to keep his commandments without fear of losing anything. And because he would not ask for anything that was contrary to the commandments, God could trust him completely.

For me, the prophet Nephi became a very powerful example in my life. Had he chosen to follow selfish desires, he would have attempted to eclipse the light of the Savior. He would have become an obstacle rather than a help. Because he chose to follow God with exactness, God chose him as His prophet and seer, and Nephi became the lens by which we can learn the will of God. It is through His prophets that God speaks His will to us. It is through His prophets that we can see clearly through the veil of unbelief. His servants the prophets will help us to see beyond the obstacles of our faith. Most importantly, they will help us to make sure our connection with God is strong and secure.

I am grateful that God continues to lead His children by living prophets. I am grateful for that connection to God that enables me to do the right thing, even when it may be frightening. I know God will carry us to a better place when we are willing to yield to the subtle and quiet promptings of the Holy Ghost. He will help us overcome any obstacle when we do not eclipse Him with our own desires and interests, but instead do our best to see clearly with the glasses He has provided. The glasses may seem dark, and the veil may seem impenetrable, but I trust that this is not the case. It is merely an illusion to test my faith. I know God is as close as we allow Him to be, and He is ready to carry us home.

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